Langston Hughes was a poet of the people, capable of raising consciousness and inspiring others. Thanks to their service-learning at an area middle school, UNC Pembroke students enrolled in African American Literature: Traditions & Contexts realized that he still matters, with the power to move and inspire the next generation.
Students in English professor Scott Hicks’s class, ENG 2100, visited Spring Hill Middle School in Laurinburg on Oct. 9. There, they worked in teams to teach eighth-grade students about Hughes’s life and importance. The eighth-grade students then practiced skills of active reading and critical thinking, sharing their interpretations of selected poems by Hughes. Inspired by Hughes’s poetry, the students then wrote their own original poetry, which Hicks and service-learning teaching Assistant Hannah Middleton will transcribe and publish as Spring Hill’s first-ever literary magazine.
“This activity is crucial for a General Education literature class,” Hicks said. “My students get to share their love for the literature with young people, and they practice the skills of annotation and interpretation and critical thinking that we’ve been doing in the classroom since the start of the semester.”
What’s more, Hicks’s UNCP students are exposed to the efforts behind the scenes that go into creating the literature that they experience in their anthologies.
“I want them to get a feel for what the Harlem Renaissance was like, when Hughes and others were supporting each other and creating the long-lasting expressions that came out of the Harlem Renaissance,” Hicks said. “They got to see the eighth-graders excited to create, sharing their work with their peers, enthusiastic to share their perspectives – just like Hughes and other writers were supporting and cheering on each other.”
After their experience at Spring Hill, Hicks and his students reflected on their learning. They were impressed by the Spring Hill students’ creativity and perspicacity in interpreting and analyzing Hughes’s poetry, and they appreciated how excited Spring Hill’s students were to write and share their own original work. They also saw how much the middle school students valued them as role models, as they answered many questions about college classes, athletics, and campus life.
Spring Hill teacher Dawn Salzlein thanked the UNCP students for their service to her students. “My students really enjoyed the discussions about Langston Hughes and reading his poetry,” she said. “When I eavesdropped, I was pleased with their writing. Your students pulled some heartfelt poetry from mine.”
Such partnerships between the university and community depend on the leadership and support of Sandy Jacobs, associate director of the Office of Community & Civic Engagement and director of academic service-learning. CCE provides vital support: (1) a service-learning teaching assistant to coordinate a strong relationship between the community partner and the university and (2) a project stipend to fund the publication of the literary magazine for Spring Hill’s students.
“I am honored to have the responsibility to help engage our students in academic service-learning efforts here at UNCP,” Jacobs said. “Through service-learning, our students engage in life-changing initiatives that not only impact their lives but our community’s as well. Our students are gaining the skills of leadership and active citizenship while becoming agents of change that contribute to our community. Our community has been very receptive to our students, and we hope that in the future the partnership only continues to flourish.”